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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 10 (January 2, 1939)

Decline of British Whaling

Decline of British Whaling.

About this time, 1838, whale fishing as a British industry began to decline. The Americans seemed to monopolise the trade. According to Bullen, Englishmen had never been really as much at home in whaling as were the Americans, who employed many hundreds of ships in the whale fishery. England now had to buy whale oil, British whalers being unable to supply all that was required.

In 1846, Charles Enderby received from Mr. T. R. Preston a letter written on behalf of several men connected with British shipping interests, who had become alarmed at this decline in the whaling industry, and at the consequent dependence of Britain on foreign nations for whale oil. Believing that on such matters there was no more competent authority than Enderby they asked him to suggest some method of reviving the whaling industry. In response, Enderby laboured to bring about the re-establishment of the British Southern Whale Fishery, and in this he was successful.

In the following year, 1847, he obtained from the Crown a grant of the Auckland Islands, in recognition of their having been discovered by one of his father's captains—Abram Bristow—and also for other services rendered under the firm's auspices in the Far South. Enderby's intention was to make the Auckland Islands a base for the prosecution of whale fishing, and he published a pamphlet stating his reasons for so doing, and also showing the advantages that the islands offered to settlers. In proof of his faith in the enterprise, he purposed going himself to superintend the establishing of the settlement. “I proceed to the colony,” he said, “with the full support of Her Majesty's Government, and the assurance from the Admiralty that a vessel of war will visit the islands once in every month. The interests of the general body of the settlers, will, therefore, be amply protected.” It was proposed to use, not the usual expensive ships of large tonnage, but vessels suitable for bringing page 27 the oil from the whaling grounds to the base at Auckland Islands, from whence it would be re-shipped to England or elsewhere in other vessels “freighted for the purpose in adjacent colonies.” Thus there would always be ships on the whaling grounds, or else returning from thence with produce to the station; “always supplies of oil awaiting shipment to England, and always full cargoes on the way thither.” Already the islands were much frequented by whaling vessels for purposes of refitting and when waiting for the season to begin.

Though of quite secondary importance, colonization of the islands was expected to proceed along with the establishment of the whaling station; but it would be a whaling colony, the land being cultivated to supply its needs. Such, in brief, was Charles Enderby's plan.

In general, Enderby's proposition met with approval; it was also adversely criticised. A writer in the London Times of November 1848, strongly condemned
(Rly. Publicity photo.) Lake Gunn, South Island.

(Rly. Publicity photo.)
Lake Gunn, South Island.

the Auckland Islands as a site for a whaling station, Otago being suggested as a much better situation. Enderby was referred to sarcastically as “Lord of the Auckland Isles.”

The Times, in commenting on this letter, said that Mr. Enderby had been offered facilities for carrying out his scheme, in Australia, Van Diemen's Land, and New Zealand; and it was only a belief in the peculiar fitness of the Auckland Islands which had led to their being chosen. In view of subsequent events, it should be noted that Charles Enderby had been influenced by the opinion of important men who had visited the islands, particularly by that of Sir James Clark Ross, who, in 1840, stayed there for three weeks. Ross, in speaking of Enderby's proposal, said: “In the whole range of the vast Southern Ocean, no spot could be found combining so completely the essential requirements of a whaling station.”

Pending the finalisation of the Auckland Island scheme, Enderby wrote to Sir Henry Pelly—Governor of the Hudson Bay Company—suggesting that Vancouver Island should be made a branch station for the whaling ships from Auckland Island. If this plan were effected, the colonization of Vancouver Island would be assured. Furthermore, a British possession would reap the advantages attendant on the visits of whaling ships; some of which might be employed in trading to India, China, Japan and other places in the Pacific Ocean, thus extending British commerce, as also connecting British interests in those seas.

The Enderby Brothers handed over their grant of the Auckland Islands to the British Southern Whale Fishery Company, and as Charles Enderby had been appointed Lieutenant Governor of the islands, the company deputed him to act as their commissioner there. By about the middle of 1849, arrangements for launching the enterprise were completed. Prior to his departure from England a public dinner was held in Enderby's honour, many men of note being present.